(May 8, 2019 / JNS) The Jewish Agency for Israel held a Yom Hazikaron memorial service in Jerusalem on Wednesday morning for fallen soldiers of Israel, victims of terrorist attacks and Jews murdered in anti-Semitic incidents throughout the world.
The ceremony paid special tribute to the victims of the synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh in October 2018 and Poway in April 2019. The ceremony was held in the presence of Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh president and CEO Jeff Finkelstein, along with family members of victims of anti-Semitic attacks in the United States.
According to the Jewish Agency, since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, some 200 Jews have been murdered in anti-Semitic and terrorist attacks around the world, with the 11 victims of the shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue and the victim of the shooting at the Chabad Synagogue of Poway, Lori Gilbert-Kaye, joining the list this year.
The 12 names were added to an engraved memorial wall located in the Jewish Agency courtyard, adjacent to the ceremony.
Special guests from Pittsburgh at the morning ceremony, which was broadcast live, included Finkelstein and Marnie Fienberg, the daughter-in-law of Joyce Fienberg, who was murdered in the Pittsburgh synagogue attack. Fienberg lit a memorial torch together with Jewish Agency for Israel chair Isaac Herzog, who had personally invited her to attend the service.
Finkelstein encouraged unity between different “types” of Jews under the umbrella of Jewish observance.
“The anti-Semites don’t care about our labels [Reconstructionist, Chabad, Conservative]—to them we’re all Jews,” he said at the morning memorial. “And to all of us, the work we do with the Jewish Agency and Federations has to be focused on building Jewish unity, because together we can defeat evil.”
To foster unity, he told JNS, the Jewish people must “stand together” and “keep the people-to-people connections strong through all types of programs.” With strong personal relationships, he said, “we will be more cognizant of each other and each other’s needs.”
“While we may not all be related,” Finkelstein continued, “we are all family in the Jewish world. Remembering our fallen is a global Jewish responsibility.”
Fienberg focused her comments on the personal and communal importance of unity between Jews everywhere.
“During this tragedy, during these awful times, something amazing has happened. At our lowest point, we weren’t alone. There was support, love and strength from all over the world, not just from our friends, from Jews everywhere … we felt that love, and love is what gets us through every single day,” she said.
“We are inspired by you Israelis—proud Israeli soldiers and citizens. You never back away from a fight, and we aren’t going to either. We are stronger together, in Pittsburgh, in the United States and here in Israel.”
Although admitting to JNS that she “didn’t value it or feel it as much until October,” Fienberg said that the family she has found in the Jewish people “is the only thing that keeps me going and keeps me fighting now.”
“When I was at my lowest, my family was there to pick me up,” she said.
Herzog conceptualized Jewish unity through shared love, as well as shared grief.
“On this day, the Jews of the Diaspora unite in grief with all the residents of the State of Israel. And here, too, in Israel, we are united in grief with the Jewish families in the Diaspora, those who lost loved ones in terrorist acts and those whose children chose to wear their olive uniforms and gave their lives protecting Israel,” said Herzog at the ceremony.
“Zionism and our shared fate have been sanctified with their blood. Lone soldiers, Jewish volunteers from all over the world and new immigrants who sacrificed their lives have fought shoulder to shoulder since the beginning of Israel’s independence. Their beating heart is in each and every one of us, whether a citizen of the state or a Jew in the Diaspora.”
‘United together against the forces of evil’
Aryeh Lightstone, senior adviser to U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, praised those “who ran to danger, not away from it, including the brave police officers in Pittsburgh and civilians in Poway who risked everything to save others, and the brave IDF soldiers who do that on a daily and hourly basis.”
He reflected on a quote by Jewish and Spanish poet Yehuda Halevi that expressed the eternal longing of the Jewish people for their homeland in Israel: “My heart is in the east, but I am in the west.” In a reversal of the quote—and referring to the memory of the victims of synagogue shootings in the United States—Lightstone said, “We are here in the east, but our heart is also in the west.”
Speaking on behalf of U.S. President Donald Trump, Friedman and the American people, he continued, “Our hearts are in Pittsburgh, in Poway, and our hearts are also here in Israel with the brave Israeli soldiers and the sweet, pure Israelis targeted for being Jews from Ariel down to Ashkelon.”
Lightstone posed that to ensure the failure of anti-Semites who seek to destroy the Jewish peoples’ values and freedoms, and said that to move forward, we must follow the “golden rule” and not do to others what is hurtful to us.
Additionally, he said, we must honor the victims of anti-Semitic attacks, double our resolve to love and respect each other, listen to each other, and most importantly, “unite together against the true forces of hatred and evil.”